Anyone who has been involved in the completion of a Lean Six Sigma project knows that selecting the right project is critical. This is even more so the case for Lean Six Sigma Black Belts who are tasked with delivering the largest projects (in terms of scope, complexity and benefits).
Typically a Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt (entry level projects) are very narrowly focused and well defined, normally focussed on waste elimination or fixing a local pain point in a process. These projects are usually quite small and flexible so changing scope or direction is easy.
Even the projects undertaken by Lean Six Sigma Green Belts are normally reasonably well defined and undertaken in natural cross functional work teams. While sometimes these projects can end up being more challenging than expected that is not usually the case.
However the step between Green Belt and Black Belt is quite a large one. Black Belts are expected to tackle those thorny, ill-defined projects that may have been attempted and abandoned several times in the past. Often Black Belts are asked to lead projects that are site wide or even global and in some cases the Black Belt may have little or no knowledge of the subject matter area they are asked to immerse themselves and little or no prior relationship with their proposed team mates or stakeholders.
So if you are thinking of making the leap from Green to Black or even jumping in at the deep end and going straight for Black Belt what can you do to avoid being one of those people who look back 12 to 18 months after their Black Belt training with plenty of battle scars and perhaps little else to show for it? Here are a few tips that should help you avoid being that soldier:
- Make sure the project driver is ‘clear and present’. Don’t take on those ‘we tried it before and failed’ projects unless it is urgent that this time a solution must be found. There are two good questions you can ask:
- Why this project now?
- What is the short term cost/risk of not doing this project?
- Ruthlessly scope any potential project you are being asked to undertake to the smallest scope possible. This argument for this is that while you may lose some of the business case you will gain momentum more quickly and it is then easier to broaden the scope if you are ahead of schedule. It may not always be possible to break the problem into specific chunks but do your best and once you have a narrow scope be very, very protective of it.
- Make sure your project can be sold well to the organisation. Even when you scope down a project you will always hold on to the largest opportunity areas. Ask yourself if you can sell this project both on a logical basis (with data and facts) and on an emotive basis (emphasising the pain and suffering that you will be alleviating).
- Avoid projects where you know will be dependent on other stakeholders who may not be as interested in the project as your Sponsor. Examples include projects where you know the solution will have to involve automation or capital spending or IT development or supplier behaviours to mention a few. Where you have no choice but to proceed with an obvious dependency in your project seek a commitment from the Sponsor and where possible from the stakeholder you will be dependent on that they will support you when you need them.
- Ensure you have good clean data before you start. Nothing is as frustrating as starting a large project with no baseline and/or not impact assessment. Therefore, where you can, do your best to avoid these types of projects:
- Process Design or redesign projects – while the organisation may see this as beneficial these are the hardest projects to map to the DMAIC and the hardest to apply Lean Six Sigma tools to. Don’t expect to be able to practice your analytical skills on these projects.
- Process Management projects – there are two versions of these; one where the problem is of a rare and unpredictable nature (special cause in nature) and the other is where there is a lack of ownership of the process (no one is accountable). Both can be tricky and frustrating – best avoided for a training project.
- What are the best categories of project to choose? Any of the following three project types would be very suitable:
- Process improvement projects where you are looking at an existing process exhibiting reasonable stable behaviour (ie. We are performing at a 90%+/- 2% level and we want to be at a 96%+/-1% level).
- Process efficiency projects where you are looking to identify and eliminate waste (looking at unit cost, productivity or cycle time typically). While you may have some data gaps in these projects (process step cycle times for example) it shouldn’t be too hard to get that data (time and motion studies, observation, sampling)
- Data projects where you literally ‘follow the money’ by finding and tackling the biggest drivers which are within your control or influence (examples include reducing overtime, energy cost reduction, inventory reduction etc.)
Hopefully this advice will help you choose wisely. Of course if you are choosing SQT as your training partner then you can also just ask to speak to a tutor and you will be able to get a second opinion from a seasoned (and battle scarred) expert who has learned the hard way.
Submitted by our Lean Six Sigma Tutor, John Ryan
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